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Friday, January 13, 2012
Vols pluck Sal Sunseri from Tide's staff

By Chris Low

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley has his new defensive coordinator, and he's a familiar face to both the SEC and Dooley.

Sal Sunseri, the associate head coach and linebackers coach at Alabama for the past three seasons, has agreed to take the Vols' defensive coordinator's job. Tennessee is paying handsomely to get Sunseri, too. He'll receive a three-year deal worth $2.4 million.

Sunseri and Dooley worked together on Nick Saban's staff at LSU in 2000. Before reuniting with Saban at Alabama, Sunseri was the defensive line coach with the Carolina Panthers for seven seasons. So he has experience as both a linebackers and defensive line coach and was also considered one of the top recruiters on the Crimson Tide's staff. ESPN named Sunseri one of the top 25 recruiters in the country in 2011, and 247Sports.com named Sunseri the nation's top recruiter.

"Sal has had unparalleled success over the last decade in not only contributing to team and unit success, but also in his ability to motivate and develop elite individual talent," Dooley said. "His combination of defensive knowledge, recruiting success, high-energy personality, ability to connect with players and personal integrity and character make him an exceptional fit for Tennessee."

The fact that Tennessee was willing to give Sunseri a three-year deal is telling on a couple of different fronts. First, it's a sure sign that Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart is willing to make the commitment and spend top dollar to surround Dooley with quality assistants. New running backs coach Jay Graham and offensive line coach Sam Pittman also received multiyear deals.

Sunseri's $800,000 salary makes him the third highest-paid assistant in the SEC behind Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and newly hired Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, although several guys are in line to get raises.